© Copyright 2019 by Don Shook
I was the quarterback, mainly because I was an accurate passer, was the fastest guy in school, and relished being in charge. Pete could run like a deer but couldn’t hold onto a football…or any other kind of ball for that matter…and played at guard and tackle.
Hitting was everything if you played for Bric. He, like any coach worth the title, lived to win football games but, even more than that, he loved bruising, hell-for-leather hitting on the field…both in practice and in the game. He dealt with losing, albeit reluctantly, but he went berserk if players wouldn’t “find somebody and hit ‘em.”
“We’ll have the Tough Twenty,” he bellowed to his all male classes in Health Science, the only subject he taught. Dodd used this mixed-grade class to advance his football fantasies. “We’ll roll ‘em out on the field in a cage-on-wheels. We’ll have a Shetland pony pull it and we’ll throw ‘em bones to gnaw on ‘til the game starts.” Then he’d laugh outrageously and vigorously rub the side of his head next to his ear, which eased the itch of a fungus he acquired in 1942 as a Marine platoon leader lieutenant in the Pacific.
“Whatta’ y’ think o’ that, Robbins?” He asked, moving to Pete, seated on the front row next to me. Before he could answer, Dodd kicked him in the shin.
Pete groaned and grabbed his leg.
The entire class laughed as Dodd grinned. “That didn’t hurt now did it, Robbins?”
“Nossir, Coach.” Pete moaned.
Dodd’s grin widened. “Then why you rubbin’ your leg, Robbins?”
“It hurts, Coach!”
The class roared. He turned to me…
“The Tough Twenty feels no pain. Ain’t that right, Shook?”
I had a quick, intelligent answer, “Pain’s relative, Coach.” He kicked me too.
He played semi-pro ball in Hawaii before the war and even managed to gain a try-out with the Chicago Bears. According to his newspaper clippings, which we dutifully acclaimed as if every time we viewed them was the first, he was a good player, a halfback who, as was the practice then, also played defensive back. Stocky, solid, outrageously strong, thick black hair covering a big, square head as well as the rest of his body, Bric Dodd cut an intimidating figure, especially when he elected to level his jet-black eyes on boys on the field or in class. And doom on the boy with a smart mouth or one who happened to cross him. His justice was swift and direct: a well placed kick to the shin or a thump on the forehead with a thick middle finger.
Like several of our teachers, Dodd endured a tough war. His began on Guadalcanal and ended as a major on Okinawa, wounded by a Japanese machine gunner. In the nineteen-fifties, long before political correctness reared its snake’s head of mendacity, the classroom discipline exacted by those veterans could sometimes extend beyond a paddle or a kick to the shin…or the thump of a finger. I was about to grab my shin when acid filled my esophagus. Dee Garrison lumbered into the room and took a seat in the back.
Dee was past twenty. Nobody really knew exactly how old he was. It was common then to attend school irregularly; work a year, sometimes more…come back to school…work another year. Most were serious students whose family needs required that they work. They eventually graduated, while others amused themselves as long as they could rather than gain an education. Since his family had money, we suspected that Garrison came to school because it provided a ready supply of subjects he could bully. He was a tall, heavily muscled man with advanced acne, bad teeth, stinking breath and a pungent body odor. Most of the teachers avoided him. He had been expelled from school for an altercation with the Agriculture teacher and now, he had shown up in Dodd’s Health class…our health class. I glanced over my shoulder at him and he looked even bigger than he did the first time I’d seen him while fishin’ down at Ten Mile Creek.
“Awright,” Dodd drawled, furiously rubbing his ear. “This is Health Science, and I’ll be covering the ways you boys can achieve and maintain your health.” He paused, and his dark eyes locked on Garrison. Dodd was as serious about teaching as he was about coaching. He made a practice of walking up and down the aisles as he lectured. This ensured that no one was reading a comic book or otherwise idling. Seated on the very last row, Garrison had tilted his chair back so he could lean against the wall. Many teachers ignored Garrison. A few made feeble attempts at correction, only to end up ignoring him as well. We knew Bric Dodd would not ignore Garrison. We knew Garrison had no intention of granting Dodd any more respect than teachers he’d managed to intimidate. Taken altogether, the situation meant a confrontation was imminent.
Dodd launched promptly into curriculum but none of us paid attention, riveted instead on the encounter that was sure to occur. None of us doubted that it would. It had to because Coach Dodd was who and what he was, and Garrison was proud of being a bully. True to form, Dodd proceeded slowly down the aisle. When he got to Garrison’s desk, he rubbed his ear, grinned that wicked grin and said mildly, “Sit up in your chair there, Garrison.” Garrison grinned back, but made no effort to comply with Dodd’s instruction. His broad back remained planted against the wall of the classroom, big feet dangling absurdly below the chair’s bottom rung. Dodd paused a long moment but said nothing, and continued his lecture up the next row. Garrison shrugged his shoulders, spread his hands, and turned the corners of his mouth down in silent, contemptuous dismissal. All of us felt a little sick. Dodd took no apparent notice but went on lecturing up and down the rows at the same measured pace.
I stole a look at Pete who was scribbling furiously in his notebook. He must have felt me looking at him; we often seemed to connect that way. He shook his head negatively. I wasn’t sure what he meant. There was no air conditioning so the windows were open, and I could hear an occasional vehicle trundle down the nearby street.
Would Dodd go back down the rows? The question had to be answered. If he did, that would mean certain confrontation. Or would he stay at the front of the class? That would mean Garrison had won. Eons passed. I wanted class to be over even if it meant our hero caving to a bully. The tension had my stomach churning. Dodd finally finished with the rows. He paused at the teacher’s desk and laid his textbook down. Then, he rocked up and down from heel to toes a couple of times, cracked the knuckles of both hands, and started down the first row again. I knew something was going to happen.
Dodd strode quickly to a position just to the side of Garrison. “Garrison,” he asked very businesslike, “You good and comfortable there?” Garrison sneered, but didn’t move.
It happened with the abruptness of a shark attack. Dodd lifted his knee to his chest and slammed the sole of his shoe into Garrison’s side, sending the big boy sprawling heavily out of his chair. Dodd’s face was now black with rage and he sprang on Garrison like a big cat. Before Garrison had time to react, Dodd had the fingers of his left hand knotted in his stringy hair. He twisted the angry, pimpled face up, there was a flashing motion, and we all heard the meaty sound of Dodd’s thick, flat hand pounding into Garrison’s face. The bully threw up an arm and tried to yell, but managed only a strange, strangled sound. Dodd slapped him again, then again, his hand rising and falling like an axe. With his left hand still tangled in Garrison’s hair, Dodd reached down and grabbed Garrison’s belt, jerked him bodily over the overturned chair and started up the aisle toward the front. Garrison was already bleeding from nose and mouth, and Dodd kept up a grunting, roaring commentary…
“Get up Garrison! Get up! Stand up there, damn you!”
Garrison, of course, could do neither. Dodd released Garrison’s hair to grab and twist the back of his shirt collar. Now he was jerking Garrison up the aisle by his collar and belt and Garrison’s head was making sharp contact with every desk en route. Garrison was babbling. “No, no…come on now, Dodd…lemme’ go!”
But Dodd didn’t hear him over his own raving rant. “Get on up here, Garrison! You wanted this, now you gitcher ass on up here with me!”
We were paralyzed, riveted to the altercation unfolding in front of us. Most of us had never seen grown men fight.
When they reached the heavy metal door, Dodd evidently forgot which way it opened, which was to the inside. You had to pull it towards you. Dodd tried ramming Garrison’s head into it, whereupon the bully flopped to the floor in a cowering huddle. Dodd jerked the door open and dragged Garrison into the hall. We could hear lockers banging as Dodd slammed him into them, roaring all the while. “You want some more o’ meeee, Garrison?” we heard him bawl.
The crashing grew fainter as they went down the hall. Eventually, there was silence. I heard Pete’s whispered, “Damn!”
The classroom chatter started only to stop suddenly as Garrison limped back in, breathing heavily, blood still trickling from his mouth and nose. He was followed closely by a grim-faced Dodd. Garrison went straight…and in complete silence…to his chair. Blanched and sweating, he sat straight up for the duration of class, eyes fixed and glassy. Dodd resumed his lecture as if nothing had happened.
Thirty minutes later the bell rang. “That’s it,” Dodd said as we sprang up. “Except for you, Garrison. I ain’t done with you.”
I had left my backpack against the wall near Garrison, and had to go past him to retrieve it. I picked it up quickly but, as I walked past him, he stopped me with a large foot and raised his eyes to mine. “You better be careful you little turd,” he hissed. “You and that worm-ass buddy o’ yours owe me already; and somebody’s sure as hell gonna’ pay.” I froze, not certain what to say or do. I looked around for Pete but he was leaving the classroom. Dodd cleared his throat loudly. Garrison lowered his eyes, pulled his foot back, and I left hastily, still not sure why he had singled me out. We never saw him in school again.
Coach Dodd didn’t return to school the next fall.
Rumor was he’d been fired. A new football coach greeted the
team first day of practice. During the summer, Pete and I had cycled
by Dodd’s house, but found it empty, looking very deserted. We
never heard from or about him again. But, to this day, it’s
not hard to imagine that somewhere there’s a Shetland pony
pulling a wagon onto a football field…filled with high school
football players rarrin’ to find somebody to hit.